Conference stresses different roles for keepers of lake’s health


When your name says “waterkeeper” and your area of interest is the 12th largest lake in the world, you need a pretty big tent to bring all of the parties with a vested interest together.

The Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization will do just that on March 21 when it opens its annual forum for an in-depth look at the persistent threat posed by invasive species, the impact of agricultural practices and algae blooms on the lake, and examinations of fluctuating water levels and climate change, how crucial the lake is to tourism, and the status of fish populations in the lake.

Those are all part of the complex web of factors that play a role in determining Lake Erie’s health report card and in laying out strategies for the future.

“We are trying to get more of a macro look at the lake,” said Sandy Bihn, executive director of the Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization, about the lineup of experts that will take the podium at the group’s annual conference next week.

The keynote address, an overview of Lake Erie, will come from Lana Pollack, former head of the Michigan Environmental Council and a former member of the Michigan legislature who now chairs the International Joint Commission, which works on issues related to water resources in boundary waters shared by the U.S. and Canada.

Jeff Tyson, fisheries biologist at the Ohio Division of Wildlife research unit in Sandusky will talk about the Asian carp threat and overall fish populations in the lake. Jeffrey Ram of Wayne State University will address the battle with new invasive species, while Doug Busdeker of The Andersons and Ron Wyss of the Lake Erie Improvement Association will discuss the role of agriculture in the health of the lake.

Amy Jo Klei of the Ohio EPA speak on the nearshore monitoring of the lake, while USGS research ecologist Mary Ann Evans will offer an analysis of the western section of the lake, and Scudder Mackey of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources speaks on coastal zone management.

David Allen of the University of Michigan will examine how climate change plays a role in the lake’s health, while Jeff Reutter of Ohio Sea Grant will provide a detailed look at the myriad issues Lake Erie faces, and Melinda Huntley of Ohio Travel will address the vital role the lake plays in the state’s tourism industry.

Bihn expects the talk by Charles Herdondorf on the lessons learned on Lake Erie in the 1970's & 1980’s to have a significant impact. Herdondorf, a professor emeritus in geological sciences at Ohio State, was the founding director of the Center for Lake Erie Area Research (CLEAR) and the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. He also directed the Stone Lab research station at Put-in-Bay from 1973 to 1988.

“He led the Lake Erie recovery effort, and his report on the lake is essentially my bible,” Bihn said.

She added that the weighty register of respected voices the conference has attracted should serve as a unifying force with all of the diverse interests involved with the lake.

“The thought is that maybe someone who attends because they are interested in issues related to our fish will hear about something else at the same time,” she said. “If they become more informed on all of the issues, then hopefully they will get more engaged. These issues all fit together. You really can’t be interested in one, but ignore the others.”

She said the interest in understanding the lake and the many concerns associated with Erie is growing. The Lake Erie Waterkeeper chapter in this region includes members from Columbus and the Lake Erie islands, while new chapters are forming in Cleveland and Fort Wayne.

“We hope this conference provides everyone with a broad perspective on the lake,” Bihn said. “No one really owns the lake, but it has to be a high priority for all of us. We hope to open their eyes.”

CONFERENCE DATA: The Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization will hold its Eighth Annual Lake Erie Waterkeeper Conference from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 21 at the Franciscan Center at Lourdes University in Sylvania. The cost is $25 and that includes a continental breakfast and lunch. Registration is available online at Information is available at 419-691-3788 or by sending an email to the address.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.